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Motivating Organizational Members

McClellands Achievement of Motivation Theory

The Definition and Role of Motivation
Motivating Your Members
Motivating Guide
Motivational Theories

McClelland's Achievement Motivation Theory


. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and McClelland's Achievement Motivation Theory

Criticizing economics as being an overly simplistic, and rationalistic discipline, David McClelland points out that it does not really account for how humans actually behave. For example, Elton Mayo and his work at the Hawthorne Western Electric plant in the 1920s and 30s recognized the non-economic motivations of workers.

In the Hawthorne Studies... the importance of the peer group was recognized in determining employee motivation.

Motivation research has long considered human motives and needs. However, isolating people's motivational needs can be a difficult process because most people are not explicitly aware of what their motives are.

In attempting to understand employee motivation, Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs. David McClelland furthered this idea in his learned needs theory. McClelland's experimental work identified sets of motivators present to varying degrees in different people. He proposed that these needs were socially acquired or learned. That is, the extent to which these motivators are present varies from person to person, and depends on the individual and his or her background.

McClelland's experiment -- the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) -- consisted of showing individuals a series of pictures and asking them to give brief descriptions of what was happening in the pictures. The responses were analyzed in terms of the presence or absence of certain themes. The themes McClelland and his associates were looking for revolved around the following motivators: achievement, affiliation and power. 

According to David McClelland, regardless of culture or gender, people are driven by three motives:

  • achievement,
  • affiliation, and
  • influence.

Since McClelland's first experiments, over 1,000 studies relevant to achievement motivation have been conducted. These studies strongly support the theory.

. Achievement (nAch)
. The need for achievement is characterized by the wish to take responsibility for finding solutions to problems, master complex tasks, set goals, get feedback on level of success.
. Affiliation (nAff)
. The need for affiliation is characterized by a desire to belong, an enjoyment of teamwork, a concern about interpersonal relationships, and a need reduce uncertainty.
. Power (nP)
. The need for power is characterized by a drive to control and influence others, a need to win arguments, a need to persuade and prevail.
. According to McClelland, the presence of these motives or drives in an individual indicates a predisposition to behave in certain ways. Therefore, from a manager's perspective, recognizing which need is dominant in any particular individual affects the way in which that person can be motivated.
. UNDERSTANDING MOTIVES -- So, what does all this mean?
. High achievement motivation
People driven by the achievement motive like to test themselves against their environment and attain standards of excellence.

In areas of management where high levels of delegation may be required, high achievement motivated individuals may be unable to give up their personal involvement with the task.

Specifically, achievement motivation is defined as a non-conscious concern for achieving excellence through individual efforts. Such individuals set challenging goals for themselves, assume personal responsibility for goal accomplishment, are highly persistent in the pursuit of these goals, take calculated risks to achieve the goals, and actively collect and use information for purposes of feedback.

High achievement motivated managers are also strongly inclined to be personally involved in performing their organizational tasks. However, they may also be reluctant to delegate authority and responsibility. Thus, high achievement motivation may be expected to result in poor performance of high- level executives in large organizations.

High achievement motivation is predicted to contribute to effective entrepreneurship and effective leadership of small task-oriented groups.

Achievement motivation is positively related to the leadership of small task-oriented groups and small entrepreneurial firms and negatively related to the effectiveness of high- level managers in complex organizations or in political situations.

. High power motivation
People motivated by power are concerned about their impact on other people--convincing someone of their point of view or empowering others around them, and finding ways to connect with and influence powerful people.

Power motivation is assumed to be predictive of leader effectiveness.

...the power motive is necessary for leaders to be effective because it induces them to engage in social influence behavior

Power motivation is defined as the concern for acquiring status and having an impact on others. McClelland used power motivation as a measure of social influence behaviors. Clearly, since most management activities require the use of social influence behaviors and since power motivation measures an individual's  desire to influence, the power motive is important for leadership effectiveness.

David McClelland proposed the Leader Motive Profile Theory (LMP theory) in which he argued that a high power motivation, greater than the affiliation motive, is predictive of leader effectiveness.

Highly power-motivated individuals obtain great satisfaction from the exercise of influence. Consequently, their interest in the exercise of leadership is sustained.

High power motivation is predicted to result in effective managerial performance in middle and high-level positions.   However, unless constrained in some manner, some power-motivated managers may also be predicted to exercise power in an aggressive manner for self-aggrandizing purposes, to the detriment of their organizations.

. High affiliation motivation
People driven by the affiliation motive are concerned about the quality of their relationships. They enter into relationships for the sake of the relationships--not for gain or influence. They are concerned with how harmonious and reliable their relationships are and are likely to be upset when disruptions to relationships occur. Affiliative motivation is defined as a nonconscious concern for establishing, maintaining, and restoring close personal relationships with others. Individuals with high affiliative motivation tend to be non-assertive, submissive, and dependent on others.

Such managers are expected to manage on the basis of personal relationships with subordinates. This may result in them showing favoritism toward some.

As managers, highly affiliative individuals are predicted to be reluctant to monitor the behavior of subordinates, give negative feedback to others, or discipline their subordinates. However, when the power motive is higher than the affiliative motive, individuals are disinclined to engage in dysfunctional management behaviors such as submissiveness, reluctance to monitor and
discipline subordinates, and favoritism.

. Need for Achievement and Entrepreneurship
. Originally, the need for achievement was the greatest concern for McClelland. He was particularly interested in this need and associated behaviors because most organizations want their employees to achieve. The 'need achievement' refers to an unconscious disposition to energize and drive. High nAch individuals are constantly 'competing with standards of excellence'. Further, they are attracted to tasks of moderate difficulty.

McClelland further described the profile of an entrepreneur as someone high in nAch (Achievement) and low in nP (Power), while good managers have high nPower and low nAch.

Over four decades of research into the characteristics of entrepreneurs has established that the essential need for achievement for entrepreneurship is learned at an early age. Persons with a high 'need achievement' have a general predisposition towards entrepreneurial activity.

. Summary
. Adults are assumed to possess all three motivations to one degree or another, however, one of the motives is usually dominant. Managers  need to identify what motivates others and to create appropriately motivating conditions for them.

People with achievement motives are motivated by standards of excellence, delineated roles and responsibilities and concrete, timely feedback. Those with affiliation motives are motivated when they can accomplish things with people they know and trust. And the power motive is activated when people are allowed to have an impact, impress those in power, or beat competitors.


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